If you’ve always been on the lookout for the vast right-wing conspiracy, Digg is the place to be these days. According to a source at Alternet.org, some conservative members of Digg.com – the behemoth social media news aggregate web site – have been caught “red-handed” in attempting to systematically censor and “bury” posts and links with liberal leanings.
It’s enough to make Hillary Clinton shudder.
But what does it all mean? Are conservatives really that powerful and do they, well, have enough free time to actually influence how the Diggers of Digg interact and view their site on a daily basis? Is Digg – commonly thought to possess a left-leaning audience in general – really susceptible to this kind of manipulation?
Here are my thoughts. But first, the claims themselves:
First, let’s address the heart of the issue: the claims being thrown around. According to Alternet.org – with bold font added:
One bury brigade in particular is a conservative group that has become so organized and influential that they are able to bury over 90% of the articles by certain users and websites submitted within 1-3 hours, regardless of subject material. Literally thousands of stories have already been artificially removed from Digg due to this group. When a story is buried, it is removed from the upcoming section (where it is usually at for ~24 hours) and cannot reach the front page, so by doing this, this one group is removing the ability of the community as a whole to judge the merits or interest of these stories on their own (in essence: censoring content). This group is known as the Digg “Patriots.”
The Digg “Patriots,” of course, in quotes, because only true Patriots downvote right-leaning links!
The link to the Alternet post has earned tens of thousands of Diggs, putting it up there as one of the most popularly-boosted links ever to appear on the site. Under the link, you’ll find plenty of angry comments, including a “**** you” to our favorite Digger, clickfire. (Note: Check out Emory’s response here, in which he criticizes the guilt-by-association logic).
According to Digg founder Kevin Rose, Digg is “looking into it.” But that hasn’t stopped the news from making big headlines on the pages of social media sites like Mashable and Read Write Web and even ABC News.
To understand the claims, it helps to have a quick primer on what “digging” and “burying” is all about.
- Diggs are thumbs-up to a link – the more diggs a story receives, the higher chance it has on making it to the list of most popular current links, which you can find at the Digg front page. The more people like a link, the more popular it’s going to become.
- Buries are the opposites of diggs – the thumbs-down. When enough digg users “bury” a story, it gets just that: buried away, never to see the light of day.
Other features of Digg include the censorship of highly-buried links. According to critics, that’s exactly what the Digg Patriots were up to – using multiple accounts and other spam-like tactics to bury liberal-leaning links and get them censored away from Digg.
The Other Side of the Story and My Take
First off, a simple question: did the Digg Patriots really make Digg…more conservative?
Hardly. As RightWingNews notes,
It should come as no surprise to anyone that since Digg added the Political News and Political Opinion categories to the site, the membership is decidedly liberal. The addition of these categories prior to the 2008 election completely changed the tone of Digg forever. No longer was Digg known as a tech site. The front page would soon be populated with story after story bashing Republican and Conservative politicians and submissions glorifying left-leaning politicians.
Not only is the general membership of Digg overwhelming left-leaning, but the site administrators often make decisions that seem to favor liberal over conservatives. Again, that should come as no surprise as Digg founder Kevin Rose did little to hide his support for President Obama.
All the evidence you need for Digg’s general political left-leaning is to spend a few days at the site, viewing which political links become most popular and where the general tone of the comments suggest the majority of users are. It’s not a scientific poll, but needless to say if you’re a conservative, you’re probably not getting your news and links from Digg.
Which is fine. Some web sites will lean right and some will lean left. If the Digg Patriots were really censoring liberal links, then in my opinion they were wasting their time. According to Alternet.org, one of the conservatives wrote this, a kind of mission statement:
“The more liberal stories that were buried the better chance conservative stories have to get to the front page. I’ll continue to bury their submissions until they change their ways and become conservatives.”
Really? You think the chips are going to fall that way? If the story of mass censorship on Digg is true, there’s a good chance that it represents the lower circles of thinking on the right.
But that doesn’t give these Digg Patriots critics a free pass.
Challenges to Liberal Domination
Go to a site like Reddit and you’ll find liberals posting links of FoxNews.com polls so they can spoil the results. Where is the controversy there? Where is the outcry against the liberals of Reddit?
Nowhere. Why? Because liberals feel justified in challenging mainstream popularity while refusing to accept similar tactics from conservatives.
This isn’t to claim that the Digg Patriots’ liberal critics are manipulators as well, but you really have to wonder about what gets them so peeved when an overwhelmingly liberal site like Digg – where you’ll find scant evidence of right-wing censorship by browsing their political categories – is manipulated by conservatives.
Are the conservatives wrong to do it? Probably. Do I expect liberals to hold to anything but a double-standard about social media manipulation? Absolutely not.
Liberals dislike conservative activists. Tea-partiers are denounced as “tea-baggers.” Ann Coulter gets pies thrown at her. Digg Patriots – while what they’re doing is indeed manipulation – are treated like they’ve secretly been running Digg for the past two years. They haven’t.
If liberals want me to side with them against conservative manipulation of web sites, they should also condemn liberal manipulation of web sites.
Further Reading, Viewing and Updates:
The Banned on the Web webcast featured several Digg Patriots including the Conservative Brawler blogger (see his coverage) who gave their side of the story, painting a very different picture than what was initially reported and spread virally.
The Social Blade Show interviewed a person from one of the teams, Jordan117 who helped review the information taken from the Digg Patriots’ Yahoo Group. In the interview, he stated that he didn’t think “releasing handles was a good idea” and describes the research process as ”chaotic,” in the “rush” to get the information out before Digg was “completely changed” (referring to the upcoming release of Digg version 4).
Update 12/6/10: RJCarter, a Digg Patriots member posted about his counter investigation and lawsuit entitled ”NewsJunkiePost Implicated in Computer Hacking to Breach DiggPatriots Yahoo Group” wherein he shows a screencap image posted in one of the early Digg Patriots exposes showing his Yahoo user id as logged on. He posits that those “investigating” the Digg Patriots affair may have actually been using his account.